Is it good practice in meditation to focus on having no thoughts? A purely empty mind. Whenever a thought arises, it is cast off.


From the viewpoint of Theravada Buddhism, we definitely do not teach this way. It's impossible to empty the mind. Thoughts pop up all the time. We can, however, train ourselves not to follow these thoughts. In other words, we want the mind to become stable and free of dependencies.

Here is a basic outline of the method of Mahasi Sayadaw, a prominent 20th-century meditation teacher:

  • Focus on the rising and falling of the abdomen during the process of breathing. Focus on only one thing at a time, and make an honest effort to focus well.
  • If a thought arises—besides the thought, "rising... falling..."—focus on the act of thinking itself. In other words, shift from "I wonder how much that car will cost me" to "thinking... thinking..."
  • If pleasure or pain is experienced, focus on the pleasure or pain itself.
  • Similar for liking, disliking, drowsiness, distraction, doubt.
  • When these objects disappear or become uninteresting, return to rising and falling.

The ultimate goal of this practice is to bring about the insight into the nature of reality. This means understanding—not by thought, but by having seen the truth for oneself—that all experiences are:

  • Anicca—Impermanent
  • Dukkha—Unsatisfying
  • Anatta—Uncontrollable, not part of oneself

That being said, a beginner should have the guidance of a skilled teacher. Here is a meditation manual in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, by the Venerable Sir Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu.


Coen nun (Zen) joked once:

A mind without any thoughts? It's brain death.

The point of meditation is not to make the mind devoid of thoughts, but to stop being dragged by them. Not to follow them, not to feed them, and so on.

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